Mike Belkin’s Bio

Mike Belkin is a respected music industry veteran. In 1965, he and his brother Jules launched Belkin Productions, the platform of Mike’s career in management, concert promotion and music publishing.

Mike has helped develop numerous artists, made the Midwest critical to the success of many rock superstars, and has been instrumental in branding his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio as the rock ‘n’ roll capital of the world.

Born to Sam and Pola Belkin on Sept. 19, 1935, Myron “Mike” Belkin grew up in Cleveland Heights and University Heights. While they were growing up, he and Jules (born April 30, 1931) worked at Belkin’s Cut Rate Store, the men’s and boy’s clothing store Sam and Pola ran in downtown Cleveland, and later at Belkin’s Men’s Shop, a haberdashery at West 25th Street and Clark Avenue. A 1953 graduate of Cleveland Heights High School, Mike made All-City in baseball as a pitcher and led the Lake Erie League in scoring as a basketball center.

Mike’s sports prowess drew interest from the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians, and he was awarded a partial scholarship for baseball and basketball to the University of Wisconsin in Madison; in 1955, the southpaw pitcher transferred to Whitewater State Teachers College, between Madison and Milwaukee, and signed with the Milwaukee Braves. After two-and-a-half years, however, he quit professional baseball and returned to Cleveland to complete his schooling at Western Reserve University (now Case Western), earning a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in 1958, with a major in marketing.

That year, the brothers expanded their parents’ haberdashery beyond Cleveland, opening family clothing stores in Painesville and Ashtabula east of the city. In Ashtabula, the brothers leased space from the owner of Anderson’s Department Store. Leroy Anderson, who back in the day promoted his store with concerts by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, and other big bands of the day. Anderson opened Mike’s eyes to the possibilities of the concert business.

Another major influence was Warren, Ohio entrepreneur John Kenley, who presented national Broadway and television personalities with local casts in theatrical productions in Warren at reasonable ticket prices. Mike thought the Cleveland area was ripe for musical presentations, and in 1965, he and Jules formed Belkin Productions (the original name was Belkin Anderson). Along with Ashtabula businessman Anderson, they decided to present the Four Freshmen. The first production was two shows at Music Hall in Cleveland in February 1966. A $3,000 guarantee ($2,000 for the Freshmen, $1,000 for opener The New Christy Minstrels), put the trio on their musical path. Mike recalls netting $67 after expenses.

In August 1966, the Belkins and Anderson presented a jazz festival in Cleveland with legendary promoter George Wein of Newport Jazz Festival and Newport Folk Festival fame. It did very well – and signaled the end of Anderson’s involvement. With the Four Freshmen and jazz festival concerts under their belt, the Belkin brothers were on their own and poised to do very well.

Although these shows launched a legendary run for Belkin Productions, retail operations continued for a while; the Painesville store closed that year, the Ashtabula outlet two years later. And the concert business began to occupy all Mike’s time. Too much time, perhaps.

When Mike began to manage the James Gang and the Michael Stanley Band and the Gang started touring internationally, the booking burden shifted to Jules. “At that point, doing all the booking and managing the James Gang became too much,” Mike says. “I told Jules he was going to have to start booking the concerts.” At that time, Jules’s strength was in accounting, production and advertising, Mike says.

In addition to managing various versions of the James Gang through the mid-‘70s, Mike managed Joe Walsh after the guitarist left the Gang in 1971 to form Barnstorm. His responsibilities took him all over the U.S. for concert presentations in which the Belkins allied with other regional promoters – including a young Irving Azoff, in concerts in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. (Azoff, of course, went on to become one of the most successful managers in the industry; his clients include the Eagles. He now is executive chairman of Live Nation and chairman and CEO of Ticketmaster.)

Other bands that Mike managed, primarily in the ‘70s, included the Sir Douglas Quintet, Wild Cherry (“Play That Funky Music”), Donnie Iris and the Cruisers from Beavers Falls, Pennsylvania (which scored with “Ah! Leah!”), Mark Avsec (a Cruiser who recorded two albums for a Columbia subsidiary), Breathless (led by ex-MSB member Jonah Koslen); Rainbow Canyon (led by Buddy Maver, later of Charade); Regina (an Atlantic Records signing who had a semi-hit with “Baby Love”); guitarist Mason Ruffner, the Staple Singers – and the “mentalist” Kreskin.

A few words about Wild Cherry are in order here. The group was the discovery of Carl Maduri, president of Sweet City Records, a custom Epic label formed by Belkin and Maduri in 1976. Bob Parissi, the writer and lead vocalist, brought a demo of the tune to Maduri, who loved it. So did Mike. Then those two brought the demo to Epic Records, where fellow Clevelander Steve Popovich was head of promotion. (Popovich passed away June 8, 2011.) Eventually, Epic released the single, the Sweet City label was born and “Play That Funky Music” became an instant international smash.

Meanwhile, the concert business was flourishing. The Belkins booked acts throughout northern Ohio, but also in Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Columbus, Little Rock, Dayton, Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Richmond, Virginia, Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky, and Des Moines, Iowa. And it wasn’t all music. “We also did several colleges; I booked some incredible acts for Kent State University, like Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and Tony Bennett,” Mike says. Other clients: Bill Cosby, Bruce Springsteen, Liza Minnelli. Mike’s favorite band is the Who – he likes visual bands. The Who helped “break” the James Gang when the two toured together in the early ‘70s.

Among Mike Belkin’s innovations: the ability for concert goers to purchase tickets in advance of the show date for less than the cost on the day of show, coming up with the concept of the Belkin Concert Club—the first in the country—entitling members to the best seats, and the World Series of Rock, monster shows that ran between 1974 and 1980 in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium. Among the headliners: The Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Fleetwood Mac. Among the key players: AM powerhouses WHK, WKYC and WIXY – and their FM successor WMMS, the storied station that helped put Cleveland on the rock ‘n’ roll map.

Other highlights of Mike’s managerial resume include four sold-out Michael Stanley Band concerts at Blossom Music Center in August 1982 (the 74,000-plus attendees over four dates remains a record) and the success of “Play That Funky Music” (the biggest-selling single for Columbia/Epic until Michael Jackson came along).

By the end of the ‘70s, however, Mike had shifted his focus to management, artist relations and concerts with the likes of Liza Minnelli, Johnny Carson and Sonny and Cher. Coming up the Belkin ranks at the time: Michael Belkin, Mike’s son, currently senior vice president of Live Nation. Young Michael began working with Belkin Productions in January 1983. In 2001, Belkin Productions was sold to SFX, which was sold to Clear Channel Radio, a public company that ultimately spun off its concert business into Live Nation.

Still active with Live Nation, Mike spends a great deal of time managing such local events as “The Taste of Cleveland” and “The Great American Rib Cookoff.” He also administers publishing companies representing the artists he has managed and is a partner and working shareholder in Pinnacle Marketing. Pinnacle is a sports merchandise business that sells sports-related items for the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Tigers, Cincinnati Reds and Ohio State Buckeyes among other colleges around the nation. It also sells trendy items such as “silly bands”; it sold more than 6 million packs nationwide in 2010.

But Mike is by no means all business. He’s a family man, a philanthropist and an aficionado of contemporary glass art. Annie, Mike’s wife and best friend, works with him in the sports business and is an artist in her own right. Son Michael and his wife, Michele, are the proud parents of Jack, 13, and Olivia, 11. Michael’s younger brother, Sam, is 21 and a senior at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. There’s also daughter Lisa, an attorney in Cleveland who has sons Kevin, 19, and Eddie, 17.

Not only do the Belkins enjoy life in a bucolic setting east of Cleveland, Mike and Annie own one of the most prestigious contemporary glass collections in the country. Mike, it should be noted, was one of the five founders—and president–of the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. He also sits on the board of directors of the Contemporary Glass Center of America in Melville, New Jersey and is a fellow of the Corning Museum of Glass. Mike and Annie have donated close to 300 pieces to museums through the years, but still retain a notable collection at their home; among their prize possessions is the largest collection of Paul Stankard glass art in the world. The Akron Art Museum will unveil its permanent collection of Stankard paperweights and sculptures on Sept. 27, 2011—a cache donated by Mike and Annie Belkin.

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